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tv   Hearing on the Economic Impact of Gold King Mine Wastewater Spill on  CSPAN  October 2, 2015 1:53am-3:08am EDT

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the denver post highlights testimony from andy kora, owner of four corners river sports, who says his business saw a roughly $30,000 loss in revenue after the spill. in august an epa contractor caused the release of 3 million gallons of wastewater into a tributary of the onamus river. more pictures of the spill at we will call the committee
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to order for this morning's hearing which will examine the significant cost and burdens for small businesses resulting from the gold king mine wastewater spill near silverton, colorado. the attorney general hoped to be here this morning, but unfortunately he couldn't attend and i would like to thank him for giving us the opportunity to hold this important hearing. hearing from our first witness, the honorable scott tipton from colorado's third district, i want to stress that the epa was invited to attend but was unable to send a representative. instead they sent testimony, and we have their testimony before us, and i ask for consent it be entered into the record. with consent, it will be entered into the record. i also want to welcome to the committee senator bennett who will be joining us not as a member of the committee but as a member of the senate who will also be able to participate in this committee hearing, and he'll be here shortly.
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so in the sinterest of time, i will withhold my comments until after officer tipton has given his statement. the area includes silverton, colorado but also north of silverton, colorado where the spill occurred. mr. tipton represented this area in 2010. your opinion on this spill is invaluable and thank you for coming before the small business committee today. welcome, congressman tipton, and your remarks. >> thank you, senator gardner, and please extend my thanks to chairman vetter for convening this morning's hearing which we believe is an important issue. when it comes to the spill, questions are still to be answered, and certainly the economic impacts we'll be feeling not only in southwestern colorado but in adjoining states as well. i would like to also extend my thanks to the small business committee for folks saying what i believe is a very important issue, the lifeblood of our economies in rural colorado and
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rural small states which is our businesses. i welcome you to begin with me what will be a long, complicated process to paint a complete picture of what the economic impacts of the epa-caused king mine blowout have been so far and into the future. i still would like to provide some context for why in the wake of this disaster, a focus on its impacts of small businesses in this area is so crucial. there is, without question, going to be a long-term impact of ranch communities in the area from this spill as well as many other sectors in the regional economy. however, given the privilege today that you've granted me, i will testify and keep my remarks brief and focus on one sector where we're likely to see the most impact more than any other, and that's with regard to tourism. many decades ago, western colorado relied largely on its mining and cultural industries for economic growth. however, our state economy is diversified. we're fortunate to be able to have beautiful landscapes that stimulate a rising tourism
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economy. the tourism industry relies on our state reputation for throwing vistas and paralleled outdoor recreation opportunities in some of the finest tourist facilities in the nation. the outdoor recreation industry booms in the winter with skiers all over the world to send on our slopes, thrives every year providing mountainous terrains to explore, as well as kayaking and fishing opportunities, and other outdoor activities on our rivers. many of the small businesses that cater to recreational tourists and offer these amenities are found throughout my district, including southwestern colorado, the region directly impacted by the gold king mine spill. a study published earlier this year about dean runyon associates published by the attorney's office provides a great look at tourism in the regions and counties in the state of colorado. in 2014, direct travel spending in colorado totaled around $18.6 billion, supporting approximately 155,000 jobs and over $5 billion in wages.
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la plata county, the first county where the gold king mine is located, relies on tourism to sustain its business. la plata county shares in that, supporting about 3,000 jobs and generating over $18,000 in local tax refr new. let's not discount the support of tourism in san juan county itself, the home of silverton. san juan county is home to just 6,900 people. in 2014, they brought $200,000 -- $2 million to san juan county. that's over $200,000 to every man, woman and child who live
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there. they can apply for their economic losses. this sounds great in theory, but accounting for the dollar loss is difficult at best. for example, how do local businesses accurately estimate lost revenue from tourists that don't come this summer? or the next or the one after that? almost every county in colorado has seen a year over year increase in tourism spending since 2009. how do you calculate the loss that would have been seen from larger increases? these are the questions we must start to grapple with. some opine that designating silverton as a super fun site, but what do the town residents think? shouldn't they be at the center of this debate? it's my understanding that a majority of the town residents still oppose any such listing on the national priorities list, fearing this designation would negatively impact the tourist economy on which the town is heavily dependent. their fears are not without merit. designating silverton a superfund site, a town where local businesses rely solely on
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business for tourists could severely damage the town's reputation and prove costly to the local economy. many of the local businesses in durango and silverton are small operations, as are many of the rarch ranches and farms in the area downstream. as a small business owner myself for over three decades, i know firsthand how important credits and loans are for staying afloat in a lean year. but ultimately a bank wants its money back, and won't loan tie customer whose business they believe is in decline or a farmer or rancher whose clean water supply is constantly in jeopardy. the unsteady status of the animas river make owners feel like they're constantly struggling. and providing tourists and crop water, they may not be able to secure the funding of the source which they need to make it through the lean times. the superfund could taint this area for decades to come,
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without regard to the impact it could have on businesses. i think we all agree that tourism requires a clean environment, especially a river-based system where people come to fish, swim or kayak. i believe that the area is contaminated with toxic waste and would undeniably affect how people spend their night and smend their money there. the super fund status is undenial that it's safe for humans. people will look to the animas and san juan rivers, see if the destination is there and possibly go elsewhere. superfund status does bring with it a stigma, right or wrong. often with that perception is a reality. a choice, to spend vacation dollars somewhere other than southwestern colorado would have a severe impact for small business owners who rely on that tourism income. we all want a fast solution to this spill. but throwing it onto silverton
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and durango when other equally and effective options could be available could have serious consequences for these communities and beyond. i've always believed that local communities know what's best for themselves. they have an intimate understanding of their hometown economies and hear firsthand from their customers about why they visit the area. so planning government's judgment with their on-the-ground knowledge stands to hurt the economic harm already done to this area. we should see solutions to address these problems in the hands of the folks on the ground who have been working to solve these problems for years. the good samaritan approach i have been broaching, please be able to see both our senators from the state of colorado here who join with us in that concept of being able to address the problem and make sure we're achieving a positive result, and i appreciate that support as one of the possible solutions as opposed to superfund designation. the animas river is a
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significant source of revenue in southwestern colorado and beyond, especially in the tourism season. this avoidable spill will have a significant impact, a long-term impact, and we're working with state, local and federal officials to gather information to assess the damages and get a full accounting of what transpired. as we contend with the damage already inflicted on small businesses in southwest colorado and the future difficulties that they will face as a direct result of the gold king mine blowout, i urge everyone to consider options that do not ultimately compound the disaster. i appreciate this hearing and appreciate the opportunity to be able to testify. >> thank you, congressman tipton, thank you for your testimony this morning, and i know you've got a vote that you probably will be able to make now. so thanks for your time today to be here, and i dismiss the first panel. >> senator bennett, a pleasure to see you. thank you. i'll now proceed with my opening remarks. on august 5th, 2015, the
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environmental protection agency released approximately 3 million gallons of contaminated water into cement creek from gold king mine north of silverton, colorado. the water quickly moved down stream to the animas river and eventually into the san juan river and lake powell, which is 300 miles down stream. it had an impact on colorado, utah, the southern indian tribe, mountain ute and the navajo nation. investigations must be kukt conducted, people must be held accountable, and tough questions must be asked. the sheriff closed access to the animas river on august 6. we visited the spill site on august 9, senator bennett and i, three days after the spill. the epa still did not have an appropriate response team in place. it was not until the following day, august 10, that the epa established a command center in durango to address the spill. the river was not open until august 14, nine days after the
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initial surge of contaminated water. water testing shows that the surface water of the river has returned to pre-event levels but many remain and have questions about sediment in the river bottom and the rocks lining the river. the sediment contains various pollutants, and the epa initially installed settling ponds to address this contamination, which we hope will slow the flow of contaminants in the animas river. last month there was a series of congressional oversight hearings that took place in both the senate and the house of representatives. we learned examples of testimony at these hearings, but more questions remain on the events leading up to and following this bill and how to get our communities back on track, including liability compensation from the epa. it's my hope that the epa's office of the inspector general's report will provide more clarity of the spill and i also look forward to an assessment of the gold king mine
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spill. there are still concerns that exist that the epa must address. the epa recently announced that by october 14, the agency will open a temporary water treatment system which will replace the settling ponds that were first constructed by the epa in august. it's good news for our communities for the winter months, but for the mitigation like the epa's long-term remediation plan and the plan for spring runoff must still be addressed. some claim the gold king mine includes reforms of the mining law of 1872. in reality, what we have to work on right now is the need for legislation that would allow these abandoned mines across the west to be cleaned up. other conversations about mining laws will move forward. there is a broad bipartisan support for working with legislation in the past. i look forward to working with the chairman to get good legislation in the senate. that is the only way we'll get good samaritan legislation through, is to work in a good
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bipartisan fashion. i'm also working with senator bennett for a need for a water treatment plan. this provides a different view than we've had in different hearings. it provides an opportunity for people on the ground who are business owners, who represent businesses and communities, and who represent the people of the counties affected. and that's why i am disappointed we do not have an epa representative here who could answer basic questions about the points that congressman tipton raised in his opening statement about compensation, about how do you determine what level of compensation to provide to a hotel, whether it's a cancellation. is that related to the gold king mine spill of a rafting trip? is it a cancellation of a hotel room, a dance lacancellation ofr reservation? how do we determine what costs incurred? we would like these questions answered today by the appropriate representative.
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property damage, lost economic opportunity, and as congressman tipton mentioned, the long-term impact. how do we get answers and compensation for these very significant issues? there are going to be a number of proposals before congress, and i look forward to working on them with senator bennett, and again, i think it's critically important that the only way we can address some of these issues is, of course, with bipartisan support. with that i'll turn it over to senator bennett for an opening statement. and the panel, if you would like to come take your seat while we're opening the statement, that would be great. come on up, three panelists, and senator bebennett, if you would like to start. >> thank you for holding this hearing, and thank you for including me. you didn't need to do that. i appreciate it. i'm not on the committee, but as you know, i'm deeply interested in getting to the bottom of this as you are and getting the answers that we need, so thanks for inviting me this morning. it's my pleasure to have the chance to welcome commissioner blake, miss gallegos and miss
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decorah. the blowout at the king gold mine has affected businesses throughout southwest colorado, and there is no denial that the epa caused this, and that's entirely unacceptable. we've held hearings on the epa's actions and it's appropriate we now consider the economic aspects of this spill. the animas river is the lifeblood and economic engine of southwest colorado. as we'll hear today, rafting companies lost business, sport fishing trips were canceled, tourism suffered and farmers couldn't water their crops. damages from the spill are still being calculated, and we may not know the full extent for years to come. businesses and individuals are starting to file claims to recover their losses. as chairman gardner said, they deserve to be fully reimbursed for their damages. the epa is committed to doing so. the gold king mine spill recovery act that i introduced with senator tom udall will ensure that the epa follows
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through on this promise. we continue to want to work with our colleagues to get that bill ready. the bill requires the epa to reimburse businesses, tribes, governments and individuals for property damage, lost revenue and emergency expenses. it also calls on the epa to construct a permanent water treatment plan north of silverton to tackle this problem at its source. the four mines in the upper animas river basin released more than 300 million gallons of acid mine drainage every year. we need solutions, as senator gardner said, to address this pollution all across the west. that's why senator gardner and i were working on good samaritan legislation to encourage the cleanup of abandoned mines. it is long past time for us to address this issue, and i think part of the issue we've had, mr. chairman, is that people in this place are too focused on the east coast and the west coast and aren't paying attention to the rocky mountain watersheds, which, by the way, if you live downstream from the rocky mountain watersheds, which
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almost everybody in the united states does, you need to take an interest in what we're doing there to make sure we don't have another disaster like this. and i also believe that, as part of this, we should reform the 1872 mining law to make sure that mining companies pay royalties to taxpayers just like everybody else on our public lands. like many other business owners and elected officials, our witnesses today, commissioner blake, deanne gallegos and andy decorah understand the legacy of the mine so we don't get another blowout. we appreciate the meeting during our visits together to durango four days after the spill. mr. kora is the co-owner of four corners river sports in durango. four corners river sports is an outdoor river store, paddle school and rafting business. it is open for business today, i'll bet, so if anybody is listening to the hearing, please go. mr. kora has built his business
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and raised his family in southwest colorado like so many other entrepreneurs. and as with so many other small business owners in durango, andy depends on the animas river for his livelihood. so when the water turned orange in august in the peak of rafting season, it hit his business hard and without warning. i look forward to learning more from all the witnesses this morning. mr. chairman, thanks again for inviting me to speak briefly and for holding this important hearing. >> thank you, senator bennett. our first witness is the la plata county commissioner brad blake from la plata county, colorado. mr. blake's family first moovve to durango, colorado and we're happy to have him in his first term here. ms. gallegos is a third generation silverton resident. and last but certainly not least, we have mr. andy kora, as
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i mentioned, owner of four corners river sports. four corners is located on the banks of the animas river, which you described as the heart of durango, and has been in business for 35 years. mr. kora will be able to provide firsthand experience for what this spill has meant for the community in the region. thank you for the witnesses travel sog f traveling so far to be here today. mr. blake, if you would like to begin. >> thank you, senators. i appreciate the opportunity, and i'd like to thank chairman bitter as well to speak at the small business committee and entrepreneurship concerning the impacts of the gold king mine spill. my name is bradford p. blake. i am a small business owner and a county commissioner in la plata county, colorado. i appreciate the opportunity to testify about how the incident has affected businesses in southwest colorado. we're very blessed to live in an area of great natural beauty,
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from 14,000-foot peaks to desert valleys. the rivers that run through this area are beautiful and clear. the premiere is the animas river that starts in the mountains of silverton and flows through colorado, and 126 miles through la plata county in the city of durango, the southern ute reservation, to the southern border and on to utah and lake powell. the river is rich in minerals and metals which attracted miners to the area in the 1960s. mining support companies followed along with other businesses that developed as the community flourished. some you would recognize, such as the renowned durango-silverton gauge railroad. others you would not, but they comprise things such as tourism, rafting companies, biking,
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hiking and outfitters, hotels, restaurants and other related support services. la plata county also has significant agricultural interests, including organic farms, ranches that rely on the waters of the animas to support their operations, and then there are businesses you would expect to find in a thriving community, including retail, grocery stores, banks, and all other services that support our economy. all of these great businesses employ a few to hundreds of people, and the spill has impacted all of them in some way. news of the gold king mine spread far and wide, not only nationally but around the world. the durango area tourism office conducted a media analysis for the period of august 5 through august 24 and determined that 19 million impressions were made,
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impressions like this that i have from the durango herald, and this was seen around the world. i had friends from all over the country call me and ask me about it. i brought you all a copy of the durango herald today to look at this. the 164 articles about the incident had a value of more than $3.4 million worth of advertising, the wrong kind of advertising. summer is the height of the tourist season, and it was cut short. first by the visual impacts of the gold king and by lingering questions about the impact of the spill on the river and our community. the businesses most severely kbakd we impacted were the rafting companies. their season was abruptly interrupted on august 5 and 6, the day of the spill. there are 10 local rafting companies in la plata county that employ in excess of 150 people. all were directly impacted and
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had to lay off employees during the period of the river closure. one rafting company owner advised me that he estimates his losses to be $100,000. when tourism-related businesses are impacted, there is a ripple effect throughout our economy on hotels, restaurants and retail stores. those in turn impact the collection of local sales tax and lodgers' tax. but tourism businesses were not the only ones impacted. agriculture took a hit as well. small local farmers had reduced crop yields due to the lack of water at the hottest and driest time of the growing season. ditches that provide irrigation water to farms were closed for up to 10 days, in some cases leaving farmers high and dry. one rancher reported to me that he lost half of his second cutting of hay which is $8600 worth of hay.
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for a small rancher, that's a big deal. equally significant is the impact of the spill on the reputation of the organic farms that utilize the river. how can their reputations be restor restored. in another example, a local plant and tree nursery located on the banks of the river was threatened by the inability to use the river for watering purposes. owner tom bridge had to haul water at his own expense until arrangements were made for the water to be delivered until the river could be used again, but even that couldn't help bring customers in. tom estimates he lost $20,000 worth of business due to the declining customers during the period of the gold king incident. and sales have not recovered. in fact, tom estimates that his sales for the year will be down 1.25% from his projections as a result of this bill. as news of the incident spread,
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calls came in to our community from around the country asking questions like, are all the fish dead? will the fumes harm my family if we walk by the river? is the river ever going to recover? it's obvious to me that our community's image has, and reputation as a natural, scenic, family-friendly outdoor mecca, has been badly damaged as a result of this spill. clearly we do not know yet what the long-term impact of the gold king spill and the publicity generated by it might be. but we anticipate there could be lingering, negative images, public health and safety concerns and a decline in future visitations, all of which will impact small businesses in la plata county. as a small business owner myself, i am concerned about uncertainty created for our local businesses resulting from the spill and heightened awareness of acid mine drainage. it is for this reason i ask for
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you to reimburse businesses and employees affected by the gold king mine spill. i ask for the gold king spill mine recovery act of 2015. i also advocate a speedy and collaborative response for loading in the upper animas. i urge congress to act judici s judifferential -- judicially but also carefully, and i thank you for your time. thank you very much. >> without objection, your newspaper will be entered into the record. >> thank you. >> miss gallegos?
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>> good morning, gentlemen. thank you for the invitation in bringing silverton to the table. my name is deanne gallegos, and i'm the director of the silverton chamber of commerce. my intention, for my opening statement, is to tell you who we are. it was silverton that brought mining to the hills as to why we still exist. silverton was incorporated in 1874. from 1881 to 1882, otto meares built the train which changed the area. we still depend on the train as part of the heart of our summer economy. there are 699 of us. technically 701 had babies this
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summer. about 520 of those actually live in the town of silverton. we get an influx of summer residents and then they go south, and then we get an influx of winter residents. so the solid, hard-core number of year-round residents is around 500. but we fluctuate. the number one landowner is the federal government. 81% of our land is owned by the blm or the forest service. we have 388 square miles in our county, and silverton is the only municipal county left standing. san juan county used to be linked and littered with many mining towns which are now ghost towns, literally ghost towns, buildings that you can go in and
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see the past. but we are the heart of the san juan mountains right off the continent continental. my father and mother met silverton high school, were homecoming king and queen in -- i shouldn't say the year because you'll kind of pick up on the age, but it was in the late '50s. and then my father started a family right away and we also went into mining but then moved into the city, which i was born and raised in denver. it is like reliving your childhood. we live there so we can live in those mountains.
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that is something that is untangible unless you experience it, unless you stood in the bowl of that caldera, which is the volcano which created the only level land which is where my town was built. because of that, 48% of our economy is dependent on tourism. since the 1990s when the last mine closed, we have tried to figure out who are we and where are we going? but we also embrace and celebrate our mining heritage. it is who we are. we offer tourism through ecology, yet our ecology in our economy are extremely fragile, just like the tundra that we live below. silverton is nestled at 9318 elevation feet, just below timberline. that is why folks come to visit us. repeat tourism is critical and
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actually a very stable part of our economy, as well as second homeowners in the influx of seasonal workers that come in and out of our community to help us get through our tourism seasons. we experience a little over 400 inches of snow in a year. we've got one road in and one road out in the winter, and that's highway 550, which is one of the most dangerous highways in the united states. along that highway which separates us from services 50 miles either to the south to durango or 60 miles north to montrose, is 150 avalanche paths. it's mother nature's way of shedding snow, but that also means that we are vulnerable to being blocked in or blocked out, quite frankly. we have the alpine loop. that country experience with hiking, jeeping, camping, ohvs.
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and in this back country is exactly where red bonita and gold king are seated. so when you go into our back country now, you do see the incident firsthand. you do see the blue tarps with the sediment and the activity that's going on. across the street from our number one employer in the winter, silverton mountain, is this remediation situation and base camp for the epa. we understand and acknowledge and know that we are now in a long-term relationship with the situation, with the epa. we look forward to taking responsibility and being proactive in dealing with being at the top of the watershed and the these old mines.
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again, if it were not for all these old mines, the west may not be what the west is today. and again, we embrace our heritage in our past, and we're proud of that. this situation has changed the way that is looked upon. talk about employers and employment. again, we are 48% of our economy is tourism. when you talk about the top employers in san juan county, we have no corporate entity. we don't have a big office building. it is silverton mountain at 40 employees, second largest employer in san juan county is one of our largest restaurants at 22 employees. we have a 10-month business cycle out of a 12-year calendar year to make it.
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winter and summer are night and day. a lot of our town closes for the winter. and in the summer when that train comes rolling in, we open up all our doors, clean all our windows off, and we are there to welcome the influx of thousands, hundreds of thousands of tourists who come to experience us, whether it's a day a week or four months. and we are dependent on that, thankful for that, and understand that without that, we, too, could have the potential of being one more ghost town. i bought my grandmother's home that was moved from a ghost town in eureka in the '40s. and my kitchen is slanted, and my walls are little and the doors are tiny, but i love my house. and i love my community. that's why we're all there. that's why i'm here, to speak up
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for them. before the incident, we already were struggling with a housing issue, which is a domino effect of, if we can't house seasonal employees, then who is going to work in the restaurants and the shops and the hotels? we were already struggling with more jobs than people in town. but we have to also be conscientious of switching of seasons. the folks who leave in the summer, the winter people come in and replace them with housing. we don't live in a normal, typical, day-to-day town. we still have dead fiber in the ground. we are not connected to fiber. so when we sit around and we discuss what is economic development for silverton, and one of the type of individual we can bring in is someone who can bring their own business, we don't have the infrastructure to
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support that. so, again, we go back to tourism. gentlemen, we are counting on you two to represent us and to speak up for us. i know you both have been there. we had a meeting on august 12, senator gardner, that was set up before the epa incident, and i bliss f blissfully, naively, wanted to stick to those issues to discuss the housing and the employment and the tourism, and where do we go from here, not knowing the train was coming down the tracks and we were tied to it. but what i do know about my community is that we still embrace that pioneer spirit. therefore, we want to create a new relationship with the federal government and the epa, not status quo.
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we want them and you to be aware of our situation. housing is an issue to have an influx of federal workers coming in and subcontractors, we cannot allow the housing we already didn't have for the people to be displaced because of that. because who is going to be there to help these small businesses? i've had small businesses tell me that they have left over 60 grand on the table this summer alone because of lack of employees. i have a business that can only open five days a week instead of seven, which null and voids one week of business a month because we literally didn't have employees. we have had cancellations. we have had real estate deals fall through. we have had banks pull out of our new community construction loans, providing loans, just because of this talk, because of
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what's going on. so i ask you two to remember us. we are important. just because we're the little guy and there is only 700 of us doesn't mean that we don't matter. and we're putting trust and faith in you to do so. thank you. >> thank you, miss gallego. mr. cora? >> yes. thank you for having me today, senator bennett and senator gardner. as senator bennett said, my name is andy cora and i own four corner river sports in durango, colorado. we're pretty diverse. we have a retail store, we have a paddle school and we have a commercial rafting operation. you know, the day the gold king spill happened, it was a hard day in durango. the river is, in many ways, the
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heart and soul of the community. it runs straight down the center of the valley and the mighty animas runs just adjacent to downtown, and it's important to the people in town. the picture there mr. blake has of those three, those are friend of mine that found themselves surrounded by the orange sludge. they're the first ones that told us, hey, something is going on with the river. word spread quickly throughout the community. i went out on the animas river trail late in the afternoon as the spill was moving towards town, and there were literally hundreds of people gathering along the trail, just in the section i was in. so the whole trail through town, i understand, was filling up with people. and i can tell you it was like a funeral that day. people were really upset. it felt really personal. there was a lot of tears shed. it felt like a close family member had been injured or hurt. it really hurt the town. it hurt people's -- just morally hurt the people. but it woke us up.
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you know, it woke us up to this longstanding pollution issue that we have in the animas. durango invests a lot of money in making it a desirable place to live, and the investment pays off. we attract a lot of great businesses. we attract a lot of entrepreneurs, small business owners, creative thinkers, telecommuters, and you can see it. our economy is strong in durango. examples of these investments. we just completed a new $3 million whitewater park, essentially a playground for rafters and kayakers. it's wonderful. the town invested $20 million in the animas river trail. i think one of the better examples is recently there was a half-cent sales tax passed in town. it's earmarked specifically for parks and recreation. that ballot measure passed by 69.5% of the vote. so nearly 70% of the people in our town voted to tax themselves at a higher rate. i don't think that happens very
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often. i think that's really a testament to the spirit of our community. so 2015 for my business was great. it was the best year that we had had in a long time. you know, we're used to a lot of adversity in the river business. we have drought years, we have down economies that seem to affect the tourism market first. we can plan and adjust for those things. this year we were going full speed. sales were great, the rafts are filled with tourists, and then boom. the river was closed. we didn't have any time to plan, any time to adjust. so my rafting company, our sister company, lost about $19,000. the paddle school was down about $8200. stand-up paddle board rentals and raft rentals down about $3200. we went from up 20% to down 8%, and the $100,000 he lost, that was in the eight days of closure. so he was down 50% for that
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entire month of august. you know, and beyond those losses, it's the 150 employees who immediately lost their jobs. so those are raft guides. they're action video photographers, bus drivers, office personnel. they were immediately out of work. so, you know, while we had the problem in the business, it's really those individuals that really concern me. i'm confident. i'm confident that with senator bennett's bill, the gold king mine spill recovery act of 2015, our local community, our state and the federal government that a lot of those people will be made whole. the gold king mine blowout was spectacular. 300 million gallons of toxic
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orange sludge going into the river in a matter of hours. i think it's important to know that the same mine was leaking 9.2 million gallons of the same water every minute prior to that. there are other contributing mines that add up to 6 million gallons a week, so that's 330 million gallons of toxic water going into our watershed every year. so the gold king represents, what, one week's worth of that natural drainage. so that's where the outrage should be. that's where energy should be directed. i mean, this is the ticking as a businessowner, it makes me reluctant to invest in the future if this is going to happen again. and the impacts, live we've said, they go way beyond durango. from silverton, colorado, to grand canyon, arizona, people depend on this river. it's the life blood. it deserves to be cleaned up. i think everybody agrees that the epa messed this one up.
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right? we waste a lot of our energy and anger going after these epa firefighters who were tasked with the impossible job of putting out this out of control fire with a garden hose. the spill makes clear that the piecemeal approach isn't working. it's a complex problem. there's tons of mine portals. there is bulkheads that need to put in there. is water that needs to be redirected there is water that needs to be treated. and it's an ongoing problem, you know. we need a comprehensive approach to cleaning this up. so yes, good samaritan legislation is proposed by the last congress makes good sense. yes. the 143-year-old 1872 mining law needs to be reformed and brought in line with other extraction injuries. the epa needs to partner with the stakeholder in silverton. they have a lot of knowledge up
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there. they need to consult with those folks. and, yes, we need a water treatment plant in cement creek today. and it needs to be fully funded. and i want to thank you senators here for proposing that. it's a really important first step. but understand that it is only a first step. all the above list does nothing to give us money today that we need. it does nothing to plant a long-term fix for this problem. look, it's a complicated problem. there is really only one entity. if we can reinvent the wheel and get money elsewhere, great. let's do it. right now today there's only one entity that can handle this. only one entity that has the experience, the technical expertise and has the potential funding sources. and that's the epa. i understand that it makes a lot of people nervous to invite the epa in on a big basis. i get a lot of the senators may not want that type of fix.
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but right now, animas basis annusmis basin offending mines is really the only clear path forward. i know there is a lot of fear around that. but i go to mow an, utah. super fun site. it is is booming. there are thousands and thousands of tourists in that. as salesperson, colorado. i don't think they are hurting from this. they are a superfund site. i think it can be done in a sensitive, directed manner just at those mines. if there is another funding source that can happen, great. if i were the federal government and somebody came to me with this laundry list, i would say that looks great. we have an excellent program with that. it's called the epa and super fund. so in conclusion, durango and surrounding communities depend on the animas river for water, drinking, industry, recreation. the ongoing pollution and the likely periodic releases affects the community's livelihoods. only the full effort and
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comprehensive approach of the epa can address these problems. i appreciate your comments is and welcome any questions. >> thank you, mr. corra. we'll jump right into questions. i think we will go back and forth on questions and get through several of these. mr. blake, start with this. feel free ms. gallegos or mr. corra to jump in as well. can you talk about some of the experiences you heard from businesses in the two counties about how they will calculate revenue and talk about lost revenue to the county if you have been able to make that calculation yet. >> i will start with lost revenue to the county. we have a lot of time just with can county employees in working with the epa. i will add our staff, county manager and our county attorney and all the support staff just
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did an excellent job of really leading the effort and coordinating with the epa. they have done an excellent job. so there is cost there. if you want to look at larger taxes directly that were affected, we're not sure quite yet. not sure yet how much they were affected. but those were taxes that would take a hit. some people said, well, the epa came to town and filled up all the rooms that weren't taken. but i'll remind you they don't pay lodgers tax. and lodgers tax goes directly to what we were talking about, fighting against any negative images that might have occurred. the durango area tourism office does a great job putting information out about the whole four corners area and drawing people in. as far as businesses, i have talked to a lot of business
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people from the farmers i mentioned to the real estate offices. i talked to one gal who actually had somebody just walk away from a real estate deal, as was mentioned by ms. gallegos. people are nervous about this. it really worries them. calls, i personally had calls from friends and family around the country that said, hey, what's going on? one of my cousins was extremely upset because he remembers the days when we were kids fishing in that river. he said i remember those days fishing in the river and how fun they were, how beautiful the river was. he was very upset about it. so there are those images, those concerns. congressman tipton mentioned perception. it really is is a lot of perception. the river may have returned back to its normal -- or as close to
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normal as you can get. it's back to where it was. people don't necessarily get that information. they are still seeing the images like i mentioned earlier. and that's, i think, is what we're looking to next year, what will be the outcome of this, and maybe even the following year. >> mr. blake, to follow up on that, has the epa indicated they will reimburse the county then for the time, the employee time that you have had and the equipment time that you have had? >> they have. >> full cost reimbursement? >> we are working with them on reimbursement. so far i think that's going as could be expected. as far as i know we have not received any funds yet. we have spent in excess of $200,000. just the county. >> that's the county budget? >> that's just the county. there are a lot of businesses that were impacted from small amount to a larger amount. some of the businesses that were
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mentioned, if they've been taking a hit of $100,000 or more, that's a problem. because the form 95 that the epa provides doesn't allow for recovering what you have lost. it has a limit on what you can actually recover. >> and thank you, mr. blake. if i could get 495 entered into the record, i think that would help as well. do we know whether the real estate deal that you talked about walking away, somebody is is there walking away from the real estate deal, it's a lost opportunity, will that be something that you can submit on a claim? how do you prove that? that's just a loss that will be hard to prove that they didn't walk away. i mean, real estate deals fall apart all the time. and there was more than just one. i have a personal friend who said that her client walked away from the deal specifically because of that. i heard some other people mention similar stories, but
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hers they specifically said hey, that's it for us. >> mr. corra, i don't know if you want to comment. i'm rung out of time. i'll turn it over to the senator. feel free if you want to add to that as well. >> well, we know what our direct costs are. >> around 30,000, is that right? >> yeah. that's easy for us to back into. my concern is the long-term impact. like brad said, the media images were, you know, everywhere. we couldn't have asked for that kind of coverage and we didn't ask for that kind of coverage. my concern is the people next year who are thinking about coming to durango. so what do we do about that? you know, i think showing a concerted effort, letting people know our river is cleaned up. i was in the river the day before it closed, and i was in the river the day it opened. it was looking messy in durango. >> i was very jealous, by the way. >> right. right. but it is looking better in town. it does. silverton, the same way.
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people are kind of used to the yellow stain are on the edge. that's been going on 100 years there. but it is things like when i first moved to durango 35 years ago, the river was pretty dead above town. there weren't many fish in the northern part of the north valley above durango. there were some, not many. and then they built a treatment plant on cement creek. it was run by one of the mining companies, in the mid ninths. it really cleaned up. the durango section became a gold medal fishery. our status has since gone down. that operation shut down that was run by a mining company. that shut down. and the fish now the bad water the dead water is moving downstream again. durango is down a notch. we're not a gold medal anymore because we're not supporting as many fish. with a treatment plan and cement creek, i'm confident we will start to see that clean up again. when that's a gold medal fishery
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again five or ten years from now, people will forget about this. they will remember durango. they will remember the animas river. they will remember silverton as that clean river. >> senator bennett? >> thank you. since there are no other senators here today, i can say without fear of contradiction it is an enormous privilege to represent the most beautiful state in the country, colorado. i know senator gardener feels the same way. the testimony reminds me how much inspiration we draw from the people we represent. you cannot come from the north or south to silverton and not think about the character of the people that built that community, ms. gallegos, as you were talking about, or take the alpine loop trail, which i have done, and see railroads built at almost 14,000 feet by people. and i always think when i'm there first of all, what the character must have been like, the collaboration must have been
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like, and how empty the political conversation here would sound to the people that built silverton. and the other thing you do when you're traveling a lot through colorado, you never stop when you're in one of these jobs. a favorite place for me is is the hotel that's right on the banks of the animas river, the double tree there in durango. if you get a room on the back, you open up the doors, and you can hear the river going by. there is nothing quite like it. let me first say, as mr. corra was saying, this community is open for business. there's lots to do in the winter and the summer months. people shouldn't take the long wrong lesson from what we're trying to do here. because it's safe. but we want to make it safer. an that's why we're all here today. so let me start with you mr. core remarks first. first, you mentioned this woke up us. that's what you said in your
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testimony. and i think you talked about the long-term issue of legacy mine pollution in southwest colorado, which as far as i'm concerned, that's the heart of the issue here going forward. we need to clean up the water from preventing future blowouts. and to address the underlying pollution in the river. i wonder if you could use an opportunity here to tell a little bit about how the business community in durango is thinking differently about this. what did you wake up to and what can congress help do to help tackle this problem. >> all right. thank you for that. i think what we woke up to, on a personal level, we woke up to maybe our river wasn't as pristine as we always had assumed. we woke up to the fact that, gee, my kid splashing around in the water as a toddler, am i super comfortable with that. you know, i think the reality is that water is safe. i trust the numbers that have come from the epa, and they've been confirmed by some local
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entities, and the water is safe. but it doesn't mean that the water is pure. it doesn't mean it is as good as it should be. below the town of silverton, below cement creek, the river is essentially dead. there aren't fish and there aren't bugs in that section of the river. mother nature, between, there is 50 miles of pretty wild water. we will take you on that stretch. that's great. and that naturally kind of cleans it up. the metals drop out at that point. so we do have a pretty clean river in town. but a lot of business owners i speak with, they are concerned about the optics. so they are concerned we've got this tainted impression across the country. i got the same phone calls as brad got. so what i think that you can do is we can fund some real cleanup up there. it needs to be done in a sensitive manner. it needs to be done so it doesn't impact silverton. and i think it can be. the mines in cement creek aren't
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directly in the town. and i think if it's done properly, like in moab, utah, and other places, that the town will benefit in the long-term. as long -- if the optic is hey, we're taking proactive action to clean this up, i think that goes to a long way for the business of silverton and certainly in durango. >> so ms. gallego, let me jump to you on to the same point you. said in your testimony that silverton was ready for a new relationship with epa, a different relationship with epa. >> yet. >> the epa is committed to constructing a temporary treatment plant as you know, but is not yet committed to finding a way to construct a permanent facility which i think most of us would like to see. tell us about the way you would like it to go going forward as we try to seek a solution to this. it is also important. i think mr. corra's points are very important ones too attend,
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and people need to understand this that the water being treated would not be right in silverton. it's north of the town. >> we are the top of the watershed. and we understand that. and, yes, has this been a long problem. but i don't believe that we have to go status quo. now i want to make a point i'm not a politician. i have not been to every meeting with the epa. but as a general citizen, also being part of the incident crisis team, my personal concern has been lack of transparency. listening and analyzing all of these hearings that have been going on. again, my personal opinion is their testimony stands for itself. that's very concerning when you
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are inviting that into your backyard. i look at leadville. he says moab, i say leadville. there is a very well-written book on the impact on leadville and the impact on the community. just as many positive stories out there, there are also the horror stories. i personally see it as a wait list. that's my concern. i agree with mr. corra that something needs to happen now and today. i travel up to the actual site on a regular basis and i see the blue tarps and the i see the remediation. i see the holes and i see the sediment. again, personal experience the fact that gina mccarthy has actually never stepped foot in my county. the fact that we had to fight to get the epa to come do a community meeting. the fact that not all situations work blissfully are
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concerning to me as a third generation silvertonian, a citizen, and a landowner. i guess i ask if it immediate money. when we ask that, when the epa came to town, there was a lot of we'll get back to you. i would love to trust. i would love to know for my community that it would be instant, that it would come right away. but i don't. and hearing the real estate agency say just the talk of the stigma, deals are getting canceled. loans are not being offered for construction loans within our new anville community are desperately wanting to build are alarming for me. do i believe the intention is is
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there? yes. but i'm also a realist. and i also know what i've experienced. and i also know what i've seen and what i've heard in our relationship with the epa. i also would like to knowledge that we understand, and this might be weird to say. we are in an arranged marriage with the epa. we have been working with the epa for over 25 years. they're here. they've been here. it is this accident that they caused that has brought this to the forelight, that has really made us the superchild to superfund or to not. where we are concerned as a community is is that it's your immediate neighbors. our definition of neighbors has changed. it's durango to farmington, to every county in town in state that touches that water. and we acknowledge that. we respect that.
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and we appreciate being brought to the table here today. what my personal experience is been is silverton a lot of times hasn't been invited to the table. there has been a lot of finger-pointing. i have received hate e-mails in my chamber inbox. we have received strange phone calls. we have gotten cancellations. we have had tourists turn down water. there is an impression and a stigma. and, again, we agree that that is our concern for long term. to say your cash register didn't change today does not mean it is not going to change tomorrow, or next year, four years, five years. what is that going to look like? i'm thinking long term. for us to figure out and calculate what's happening today is going to be time in the future for when the tax numbers can come in and when the stories continue to roll. this is less than a couple months. it feels like 10 years. but it has only been less than a couple months.
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but what i ask, again, in the pioneer spirit, and this is again personalized is that we think outside of the box. is it the magic bullet? i don't know that. i can't say that. what does it actually mean to be on a priorities list, wait list, immediate remediation? we as well want to see immediate remediation, to see that the work that's happening up there is wonderful. but let's keep going, let's move forward, let's make it permanent. we also want a water treatment plant. but does it have to be like it's been done since the '80s? i don't know that. and again, we're turning over our trust to you. >> thank you. to follow up on some of the comments that have been made about the funding and some of the form 95 or the claims
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itself. to your torj, to your knowledge, has anybody been reimbursed for a claim that has been filed? >> no. >> no. >> there is no timeline given for what it will be filed? i don't heard in the next week, month, six months? any time frame to the best of anybody's knowledge? >> no. >> the la plata county actually set up with the epa meeting place where people could come with their form to get help filling it out. ing it's not a real easy form or friendly form to fill out. but la plata county actually was proactive in helping folks fill that out. and i believe they can still get help if they need to. i think the incident command center has kind of been -- has stood down at this point. but i think there is still some help out there. >> senator bennett, do you have any follow-up questions or anything?
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>> let me ask you one question which is, is there more that senator gardener and i can be helpful to you as you try to interact with these federal agencies or think about what legislation we might want to pass? >> well, the epa is a pretty big machine. we found that out when they come to town in force. they were up above silverton doing some work on a small scale. it turned into a big scale. when they all came in, it was a pretty big group of folks that showed up. but i think that could be something that works against them almost. so many people that came. and a lot of different folks would show up every week. we would ask for certain things. the next group would come in and the ball would kind of get dropped. so i think the size might actually be a detriment. i would agree that a
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collaboration would be good if possible. because there are a lot of experts from the mining industry that have done a lot of good work up in the mineral creek drainage. they have done a lot of cleanup on their own on a piecemeal. they do one here, one there. and i think that's a great opportunity to see the best things happen, because you get experts that have been doing it. they put bulkheads in those minds. they've seen a lot of cleanup. not that the epa doesn't have experts. but there are people who have been there a long time. i would agree i think a collaboration is really the best way to go. >> okay. well, i appreciate it. i just want to, as chairman gardner said, to thank each of you for coming here today. it's a long trip, i know, and you've got other things. you've got day jobs you need to
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worry about. so we're very grateful for this testimony. it's been incredibly helpful. and our offices are going to continue to work with you to make sure we put this right. thank you, senator gardner for holding this hearing. >> and thanks senator bennett for your participation and senator tipton for your participation. thanks to the witnesses for your time and testimony there is a lot of work that we need to do following up. ideas on reimbursement, getting ideas for time frames. we have to figure out what the time frame is going to be, what kind of claims are going to be accepted. form 95 can be filed for two years. does that mean next summer, after they've seen an impact on this, can they file? or does it have to be during the time frame. again, we will get the answers from the epa for those questions. but you have a commitment from senator bennett and i to continue to work on these issues. whether it's conversation on the 1872 mining law, good samaritan law.
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these are things -- we can't wait. and you're here today as part of the solution. and we truly, truly appreciate that. thank you for your time and testimony today. thank you to chairman vitter for allowing this committee hearing to be held. and i wish you safe travels back home. this committee hearing is adjourned. >> thank you.
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>> thank you, good to see you again. >> thank you very much, senator. i appreciate it. state legislators from 50 states are gathering in washington to discuss the american families economic agenda. it includes a speech from new york city mayor bill de blasio. the conference begins at 8:00 a.m. eastern live on c-span2. and in the afternoon, utah governor gary herbert will talk about an initiative to share ideas that are solving problems around the country. he is chair of the national governor's association. that's live from the national press club at 1:00 p.m. eastern
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on c-span. >> sunday on q&a -- >> the supreme court is about more than just its opinions. to understand it fully, you need to know about the justices' backgrounds, their personalities, their foibles, personal dynamics, and with each other and with their clerks. >> national law journal supreme court correspondent and author of the companion book to c-span's upcoming series "landmark cases", tony mauro on the cases featured and the supreme court's new term. that's sunday night at 8 eastern and pacific. and on monday, as the supreme court starts the new term, c-span debuts its new series, "landmark cases: historic supreme court decisions." on the series premier, we take a look at the real story behind the marbury versus madison case, devilling into the heated political battles between john
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adam, thomas jefferson and newly appointed chief justice jeanmar shall. >> john marshall in marbury versus maddon. >> marbury-madison is probably the most famous case this court ever decide. >> joining the discussion yale law school prefer akhil reed amar. landmark case, exploring 12 historic landmark rulings by exploring the life and times of the people who were the plaintiffs, lawyers and justices in these cases. "land mar cases" premiers live on c-span, c-span3 and c-span radio. and for background on each case while you watch, order your copy of landmark cases companion book. it's available for $8.95 plus shipping at cases.
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latvian president raimonds vejonis doesn't have experience with refugee and ask asking for help. last week they agreeing to accept 531, more than twice the number it's accepted since the country restored independence in 1991. from the national press club, this is about an hour. >> it's such an honor to speak here. you all are such a great audience. this is first time for me with such audience. i will try to do the best. what we are


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